Want To Understand The Bible? Start At The "Beginning"
By Randy Blackaby
No one would expect to comprehend a novel like "Tom Sawyer" or mysteries like "Sherlock Holmes" if they began in the middle of the story or just read the conclusion. Yet many people read the Bible in such a fashion and are then perplexed by this "difficult" book. Actually, it is amazing that folks get as much out of the Bible as they do with such methodology.
As preachers and teachers and Christians interested in leading our friends to Christ, we probably err greatly when we start in Acts or the gospels. Though the first tells what people did to be saved from their sins and the latter tells of the work and sacrifice of Jesus, we well may be getting the cart before the horse.
The book of Genesis, the "book of beginnings," is the better place to start. It tells the beginning of the world, the beginning of man, the beginning of sin and the beginning of God's plan for man's redemption.
This book introduces us to God, to his power, love, word and judgment. It puts the world and our existence in proper context. It explains why we are telling our friends they need to be "saved." It explains the origin of sin and death and demonstrates the earthly results of sin. Further, it demonstrates that without God's intervention, sinful men only get worse and worse.
Genesis declares the true nature of man, a creation made in God's image and likeness (1:26-27). Man is demonstrated to be a creature capable of comprehending communication from God, living in fellowship with the divine, and able to make choices. We are not merely swept along by fate or evolutionary machinations. And Genesis shows our choices have results.
The expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and the destruction of all the world, save for a boatload of animals and 8 people, show God will punish the wicked. He has in the past and will in the future. Thus, if God offers a means of escape, as he did with Noah, then mankind is wise to receive such grace obediently and thankfully.
Think about it. If a person doesn't accept these truths, first established in Genesis, what sense does it make when a Christian talks to them about being "saved." It is merely religious jargon without the context Genesis provides.
Gospel First Mentioned In Genesis
The very first hint of the gospel—the good news of God's redemptive plan—is found in this Old Testament book, not in the New Testament. Genesis 3:15 sometimes is called in commentaries the proto-evangelium. God declared, "And I will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal" (3:15).
It must be granted that this statement seems obscure without the further light provided by the gospels, Jesus' own words and the preaching of the apostles. But it is indicative that God had a plan for man's redemption "before time began" (2 Timothy 1:9; Romans 16:25; Ephesians 1:4).
This "first gospel" reveals not only God's love but also a shadowed forecast of the means of redemption. Satan would be able to bruise the heel of the "seed" or offspring of the woman through whom sin entered the world, but her offspring would deliver a blow to Satan's head. Thus predicted is the suffering and death of Jesus and his victory over Satan's ultimate tool—death. That's the gospel in the tiniest of capsules.
Development Of God's Redemptive Plan
As sin increased following that of Adam and Eve, the world was destroyed and given new birth physically. But physical rebirth didn't resolve the problem. Shortly after the flood, men again defied God and elevated themselves at the Tower of Babel (11:1-9). Obviously, a more dramatic change was needed.
We are introduced to God's more dramatic plan in the next chapter as we are introduced to a man named Abraham, a man of profound faith and obedience. God promises Abraham three things. These form the outline and context of the rest of the Bible.
1. He promises him a special land in which to dwell. Thus it becomes known as the "promised land."
2. He promises to make of his descendants a great nation.
3. Most importantly, he promises that from Abraham's seed or descendants "all nations of the earth will be blessed" (12:1-3). This is ultimately the promise of sending Jesus as Messiah or savior.
The book of Exodus shows God faithful in fulfilling the promise to create from Abraham's family the nation of Israel. They came out of Egypt at least a few million strong, and were reshaped from slaves into a covenant nation with a law system in less than a year.
The remainder of the Pentateuch further describes this development, as well as God's continuing faithfulness to his promises, in spite of Israel's sin, fickleness and unfaithfulness. We learn that we can trust God to be true to his word, no matter what others say or do.
The book of Joshua tells of the fulfillment of God's promise to give Abraham's family a land. Joshua declared just before his death, "And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed. Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the Lord your God promised you, so the lord will bring upon you all harmful things, until he has destroyed you from this good land which the Lord your God has given you" (Joshua 23:14-15).
God had promised blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28-29). The remainder of the historical portions of the Old Testament and some of the prophetic ones demonstrate that God always follows this principle, except his willingness to forgive when his people repent, change and return to obedience.
Gospel Otherwise Emerges In Old Testament
Having started with the obscurest of hints at the gospel of salvation in Genesis 3:15, fleshed out with the promises to Abraham, the words of the psalms and the prophets give further details of the coming deliverance and deliverer.
Even the physical lives and experiences of men like Job, Joseph, David, Solomon, Jonah, Daniel, Cyrus, Hosea and many others present "types" and "shadows" of the Christ to come.
Now We're Ready For The Gospels
It is with this perspective from Genesis to Malachi that we are ready for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Now we're ready to see how far God would go to "save" us and how faithful he is to his promises.
We see God sending his own son-his divine son-in the flesh; that is, in a human body. In this fleshly body he could both become a model for human living and a sacrifice for sin. Being human, he could "taste death" for every man.
This son was tempted in all points like as we, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He demonstrated what we first learned in Genesis, that man is created with an ability to choose right or wrong. Jesus was tempted just like Eve, with the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). Yet, unlike Eve, he chose not to sin. He was tempted in the wilderness just like ancient Israel (Matthew 4:1-10). Yet, facing even starvation, he chose to quote his father's word and not sin.
He taught men by example and word and then he died on the cross as though he were a criminal to pay the penalty for our sins. This baffled many Gentiles and not a few Jews. Yet, if we return to Genesis and the Old Testament and explore the concept of sacrifice, first executed by Cain and Abel and then more formally introduced into the life of Israel through the Law of Moses, it isn't so baffling. God had for centuries laid the foundation for his plan to substitute the life of his sinless son for the lives of sinful men with the deaths of millions of innocent sheep and cattle. A substitutionary atonement is at the heart of the gospel.
The Flood Of Genesis And The Book Of Acts
The message of the first gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost following Jesus' resurrection and the subsequent "turning of the world upside down" (Acts 17:6) necessarily should take our minds back to the flood of Noah's day and what followed it.
God destroyed the sinful world by water, but saved a few souls by the same water in Noah's time. Noah's salvation was by God's grace and affected through Noah's faith and trust in God. His faith was seen to be real for he did what God told him, even if it didn't make logical sense at the time.
When the flood ended, God recreated the world through Noah and his family. The world was reborn and forever changed.
But this physical pattern was played out at a spiritual level in the first century and thereafter as God provided the means for men to be "born again" through grace, faith, obedience and "water." Peter told them on Pentecost, "Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins" (Acts 2:38). We learn in Acts 8 with the case of the Ethiopian eunuch that baptism was in water. Cornelius was baptized in water (Acts 10:47). And Peter draws the connection between the salvation of Noah by water and our own baptism unto salvation in 1 Peter 3:19-21.
Baptism, which seems so hard for many to comprehend when merely reading about it in the New Testament, is put into perspective as God's tool or work of salvation when Genesis and the flood are understood in background.
Genesis And Revelation: Bookends Of The Gospel
When we open our Bibles, we read of Adam and Eve in a paradise. Absent are sin and death and suffering. Present is God, his glory and blessings. Sin destroyed the ability of men to have such close communion and communication with God.
As has been explored thus far, the rest of the Bible records the development and fulfillment of God's plan to "fix" the sin problem. But as many who have obeyed the gospel (Romans 1:5; 16:26) find, their sins are forgiven and they have the ability to come boldly before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), but they aren't yet living in paradise.
But the book of Revelation, the lone book of prophecy in the New Testament, concludes God's revelation to man by foretelling a day when all tears will be wiped away, when there will be no more death and all sinners will be permanently separated from the saints. There was no need for a temple, in which God cloisters himself away from his people, for God and Christ will themselves be the temple and the saints will be immediately in their presence. The curse of sin, placed on Adam and Eve and upon disobedient Israel, will be gone.
Paradise will be restored. What begins in part in the church on earth will be completed in the church swept into the glory of heaven. Then, the story of the gospel, begun in Genesis, is to be completed.
Now, aren't you glad we began at the beginning? The gospel makes sense and the end of a mystery is now a true revelation.